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Oh, my goodness!  This morning I took a walk around the gardens of Horizon House!  For those of you willing to walk slowly and really observe your surroundings, you too can find the deliciousness of SPRING IN JANUARY, all around us!

Here are the pictures I took.  I started outside the Dining Room and took photos of what you see as you sit and eat.

Then I went down to the E Level entrance from Freeway Park, and took a few pictures of Hellebores there.

Then it was on to the Secret Garden, Level C, and Level D!

Finally, I went out in front of Horizon House and as well as across the street where the Witch Hazel trees are blooming right outside the Virginia Mason Hospital!

What a delight!  It gave me hope that spring is actually COMING.  Hold onto your hat…and come along for the ride!

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I’ve had a few folks ask about a calendar of “what to do when” in the garden.  I have to be a little picky here, as I’m really writing this blog for those who live at Horizon House (a Retirement facility) with raised garden beds…no big expanses, trees or large shrubs.  This means that some chores are adjusted in such a way as to fit our needs.  However, ALL of these are useful for ANY gardener in the Pacific Northwest.  I will try to post one of these for every month as we go forward.  If it appears that they are either too “simplistic” or too “all encompassing”, please bear with me, and fit them to YOUR own needs!   I hope you find them useful, no matter how large or small your piece of Eden!

JANUARY

  • Some folks cut off the spent christmas tree boughs and lay them on top of flower beds to add extra protection, from errant snow or even low temperatures.
  • Do you have anything that’s stored away…like tubers of any sort?  Bulbs, veggies (potatoes, etc.)  Check them and toss any mushy ones into the compost.
  • Don’t forget the birds.  images.duckduckgoEspecially here in the PNW where little hummingbirds spend the winter.  There aren’t many blossoms for them to tap…offer them some sugar water.  (4 part’s water to 1 part sugar.  Bring to a boil, and cool.  It will keep nicely in the refrigerator.)
  • This might be a good time to start a Gardening Journal.  You can use a notebook, a calendar, or even a published gardening journal you buy at the bookstore.
  • Had any early storms?  Pick up and dispose of debris.
  • Turn your indoor plants every week or so in order to keep their growth even, as they will grow toward the sun.
  • While you’re at it be sure to constantly check those indoor plants for insects and give them a soapy, bubble bath if you find any!
  • Check your fruit trees (and actually ANY trees) and cut out the “water sprouts”.  They are new growth that points STRAIGHT up.  They will only block air and sunshine, and are totally non-productive.  Remember when you prune to get as close to the trunk as you can without cutting into it.  The wound will heal by itself.  No need to paint it with anything, as that may actually impede the healing process.
  • It’s a good time to clean up your tools.  A good method is to have a small pail filled with sand to which you’ve added some old oil.  Then you can plunge your shovels, spades and trowels in to clean off the old dirt, and coat them with oil at the same time!
  • It’s a good time to take your shears, pruners (and lawn mowers if you have such a thing) in to be sharpened!  Then they’ll be ready in the spring.
  • For goodness sakes, enjoy your gardening catalogs and use them to plan next years garden!  Order stuff now, they will be sent at the proper planting time, and at least you know you’ll GET what you want!
  • Stay active!

IMG_7146

At Christmas we went to our daughter’s home.  She had this amaryllis blooming on her table in the living room.  Like so many of us, a little guidance on how to care for this gorgeous plant would be helpful.  I will attempt to do that here.  I will give you the “simple” guide, but I will provide you with some links that will go into much greater detail, so you can go as deeply into this as you’d like…or stop at the simplest!

I am going to assume you were given a blooming amaryllis bulb and it is beginning to fade.  Your question now is probably, “What now?”

You can just treat it like any other houseplant in order to have it bloom again next year. BUT, there are a few things you need to do.  As soon as the flower has faded, cut the flower stalk off a bit above the bulb-maybe an inch or two.  DO NOT CUT OFF THE LEAVES.  The leaves are needed to replenish the bulb with all the nutrients it utilizes to re-bloom next year!  On the photograph of Christa’s blooming amaryllis, you’ll notice there are no leaves, or at least just a tiny one.  (After you cut back the flower stalk, leaves will miraculously appear.  Just let them grow until they fade as well!)

Place the pot near a sunny window, water and fertilize in the same manner you do with your other houseplants.  Then, when all danger of frost is gone, sink the pot in an east or west facing spot in your garden.

As the leaves begin to turn yellow during the progressing season, cut back on any watering until the soil drys out and the leaves fade totally.  At that time, your bulb is dormant and you can bring it back inside.  If you have a cool spot (about 45*-55*f.) allow it to stay there for a couple of months.  At that point, you can water it and set it back on your sunny windowsill and treat it the same as your other plants.

I promised you a couple of sites that would give you more in-depth direction and information.  Here are two.  One is from the University of Minnesota Extension and the other is from Iowa State University.

Here is a past Post from my New Hampshire Blog about how I dealt with Amaryllis there.  It’s from a different climate and zone, so you may get a chuckle out of seeing the differences!  Enjoy!

TUESDAY, MARCH 29, 2005

Amaryllis, indoor

My amaryllis has finished it’s blooming. Those bright, vibrant red blooms were a delight on the window sill in our northern climate. The Easter Cactus blooming right next to it was the same color. What a joy!
All things must end, however, so it faded and I cut the stem off just above the neck of the bulb. Strangly enough the bulb never put forth any leaves. NOW that the bloom is gone, however, the leaves are making an appearance. There are 4 or 5 of them popping up from the bulb.
I will now put the plant downstairs in the cooler basement and cut back a bit on the watering. Fertilization will not happen again until the weather is a bit warmer, and it goes outside.
I do not have an outdoor cold frame, so I’ll have to find a sheltered spot out in the garden when the frost is no longer a problem. In this northern climate, we joke that the “no frost dates” are from July 4th until Labor Day!
Anyway, it will be coddled until it goes outside and then I’ll put it in my chicken-wire box where it will be safe from critters, but able to enjoy the great outdoors. In the fall the reverse process will happen. I’ll stop the water again, bring the pot back inside, checking for insects, etc. It will stay in the basement while the foliage dies back. At that point (January or February), I’ll clean off the old foliage and dried scales, as well as take out about an inch of soil from around the bulb (gently) and add some rich soil and compost.
Amaryllis bulbs do best if pot-bound, so don’t be too quick to use a larger pot. Give them 2-4 years before this kind of a change.

 

 

 

 

We went to Molbak’s last week.  I got some tiny poinsettias, and then won a larger one at a Christmas Party we went to afterwards.  My window sill is a “groaning board” of poinsettias!IMG_7099

How about a little information about the “what & where” of poinsettias?  For instance what most of us tend to call the “flowers” are actually “bracts”. TIMG_7112he little yellow “things” in the center are actually the flowers.  Here’s

 

a rendScreen Shot 2017-12-08 at 9.39.48 AMering of what a bract actually is!

The issue now is whether you have purchased those plants for Christmas color, or to keep forever.  They are inexpensive, and therefore easy to “buy and toss.”  I have NOT got the room to save them from year to year, and they are so inexpensive to purchase, I’d rather just let them fade, compost them and buy new next year.

At this point, I’m going to assume you fall into the latter category.  If you keep them from year to year, that is a whole different story…not to be answered in this blog, but try this link for more information from Clemson University Extension Service.

Anyway, when you get them home, be ready to have a very christmas-y house.  They are wonderful for that, aren’t they?  But what do you do with them to keep them looking good and being healthy for the time they live at your place?

First, look for a draft free, relatively sunny spot for them to be located.  They don’t like to have a frosty reception when the sun goes down.  They do need about 6 hours or so of indirect sunshine…  Unless you live in deepest Alaska, pretty much any relatively sunny spot will do!  Some spots in Horizon House are incredibly sunny.  If you have one of those units, aim for a table nearby.

Watering?  If you don’t keep the soil from totally drying out, the leaves will turn yellow, curl and drop off.  OUCH!  Disaster!

Every other day, I take mine to the kitchen sink and let them (in their plastic pot) sit in shallow, tepid water for 20 minutes or so.  Then I remove them, drain the water, put them back in their  pretty (no hole) container, and place them back on the sill.  That seems to work very well.  Most directions say to water every day.  I think if you see the leaves looking a bit “curly” get them into water, and do it daily.

It is normal for the lower leaves to finally turn yellow and drop, so don’t panic, just be sure the plant is not thirsty.

You shouldn’t need to fertilize them, unless you are going to attempt to keep them longer than the 6-8 weeks we hope for under usual circumstances.

If you keep them in the foil they usually come in, be sure to punch some holes in the bottom, so any water can drain.  NEVER let them sit in water and become soggy.  That’s a sure path to disaster.  I set the plastic pots into a prettier pot (with NO hole) to protect my furniture.  Although the foil is pretty, I usually remove it.  But that doesn’t mean you have to follow suit.  Do what you think best for your circumstances!

Contrary to popular thought, the leaves are NOT poisonous.  So your pets should not be bothered.  However, the sap can sometimes cause an allergic reaction so be aware of that.

Poinsettias are named for Joel Poinsett, a botanist, who was also ambassador to Mexico.  He introduced the plant to the USA in 1825.  It is pronounced:  “poin·set·tee-ya”.

Good luck with your new acquisition.  Enjoy all the Holiday color and cheer!

 

How do birds help in the garden?  We love to look at them, and listen to them.  We love to feed them and count them.  But, what in the course of nature requires them to be part of our environment?  When you look up “birds” on-line, it’s mostly about how to protect your fruit and veggies from the birds.  How do they HELP us?

Well, WOW!  I looked up “how do birds help gardeners” and came up with an Audubon page that goes into great detail!  It’s not brief…but if you’re up for a little reading, go to that Audubon link!  You will be educated!

First, they help us with “insect control”.  Think of the great saving of the Mormon crops in 1846!  That katydid got the name “Mormon Cricket, because of this incident.  220px-SeaGull69The California Seagull, which was the savior bird, was then named the State Bird of Utah!  There are many other examples of a similar symbiosis.  Remember, birds are busy eating grubs and insects in our gardens all the time!

Next we should consider all the “road kill” on our highways.  Crows and Ravens are meat eaters.  This is why you often see those black birds sitting on the railings along our highways.  They are waiting for dinner to be delivered!

 

 

These birds are scavengers who help us by keeping our environment clear of rotting carrion.  Imagine what would happen in India where cows are considered sacred.  People cannot pick them up and dispose of them…but vultures do the job very admirably!

Birds also disperse seeds and nuts.  It isn’t always that we as gardeners appreciate that particular skill, but it’s how nature works.kortsnavelelenia-tewksbury

Remember the quote “Canary in the Coal Mine”?  Birds can be used as markers as to how our environment is functioning, not only in the coal mines, but because they are so small, bad things tend to happen to them first.  Rachel Carson used birds as an example in her book, “Silent Spring“.

Birds even draw people out of their homes to “bird watch“.  There is a whole “Eco-tourism” faction in our travel world.  Some people will travel continents away to see another bird they’ve never seen before!

images.duckduckgoThere are birds that pollinate flowers.  Remember our own beloved hummingbirds.

images.duckduckgoMigrating water fowl help farmers by foraging for bugs, grains and straw left from spent fields.  By foraging those fields they also leave their own “manure” hence fertilizing the fields naturally.  It means that farmers do not have to “till”, either at all, or in some cases,  less.

418_Spruce_Nyjer_SmAnyway, the next time you see a bird in the garden, remember they fill MANY roles.  Be glad they are there, and enjoy them!

Autumn is surely here! IMG_7026 The trees have turned color, started dropping their leaves and begun looking a bit “bare”.  It is the way of the garden…even our little gardens here at Horizon House.  Here’s a link that has photos and a few comments about our gardens.

But, to get back to autumn, and how it affects us, AND our gardens.  I decided to write this post because I’ve just begun to read a book about soil, called “Growing a Revolution-Bringing Our Soil Back to Life”, by David Montgomery.  Jean D. had asked if the IMG_7018Garden Committee would co-sponsor a program, with the Conservation Committee featuring David Montgomery, to speak about this new book.   I thought that would be a great idea.  He will be coming to HH sometime in the not too distant future.  Anyway, I’m LOVING this book and how he explains about the soil and how we can replenish it with far less chemical intervention.  Anyway, it got me thinking about how we can get into this “mode” here, even in our little gardens!

It is a totally natural approach.  It’s wonderful, not only for the soil, but for insects, and the wildlife, of which many of us are not really aware.  It is also easier on the gardeners, as the chores we usually accomplish in autumn are diminished.IMG_7028

Our garden beds are looking a bit scruffy right now.  It’s a time when we fussy gardeners think it’s time to clean up all the debris.  STOP!!!  DON’T DO IT!!!!

When we remove all that debris, we stop the soil from replenishing itself.  The leaves, if left alone, will become places for microbes and little critters to hide for the winter.  All those little guys will use the leaves for food, passing it into the soil in a form that can be utilized as the roots gobble it up to feed the plants!  So, don’t be too quick to remove those leaves!IMG_7019

 

IMG_7020Also, the plants themselves, if left standing are happily feeding birds and little creatures.  There are green buds, berries and seeds, all of which keep our wildlife fed and passing it back to the soil as they hop from place to place.IMG_7024

Sure, it doesn’t look wonderful to OUR eyes, but the soil and wildlife will be so appreciative!IMG_7025  Pledge to become a MESSY GARDENER along with the Nature Conservancy.  This link will tell you more about how these techniques will really be good all around!

I think I will write a note in the ALERT telling people that our gardens may be looking a bit “scruffy” during the winter months…and WHY!  So, go ahead and experiment.  Leave those leaves alone, and let’s see what happens.  In the spring, you can clean up your garden if you want.  Letting the leaves break down further will be good for the soil, but if it looks too nasty for you, go ahead and clean it up in the spring, but leave the leaves for now!

Here’s to the Horizon House Garden Committee’s contribution to replenishment of the earth’s soil!  Have fun being MESSY!

 

From the time we are just wee, little ones learning a catchy rhyme, “Rain, rain, go away.  Come again another day!” Until the present time when we stand aghast to read the news about yet another terrible rain event in the form of one or more hurricanes.

Rain is one of those things that we hate one minute but know the next, that we can’t exist without.IMG_0371

The most important element that we need to support life (any kind of life) is WATER!  It comes to us in the form of rain.  Rain fills the oceans and pushes the brooks into the streams, which form the rivers, etc.  So, we cannot do without rain!

 

Some climates have to live with little, or no rain, as in deserts.  Other places like rainforests, have to figure out how to handle the deluges.  As I recall the cliché is “feast or famine”!  Here in the Pacific Northwest, we are usually in the “feast” category…but not always.  This is where our skill, as gardeners and farmers, comes into play!

Our gardens have to handle both an excess of water, or in the dryest season of summer hold onto the little we get.  In other words, sometimes we need to deal with drought, just as we need to deal with the occasional flood.  Generally in the PNW,img_5618 the rain is frequent, but light. It keeps us constantly damp it seems, but doesn’t rain enough to get down to the deep roots where it’s necessary in order to be of any use to the plant above.  So, what are we to do?

As gardeners (I’ll include farmers in that all encompassing word) we all know that along with water, the most important ingredient is the SOIL!  Just like water, soil comes in different forms as well.  In a desert, it’s sand.  In a rainforest, it is almost pure compost. If it rains in the desert, the water is gone almost as soon as it hits the ground, because sand does NOT hold water and the dampness is burned off by the sun.  In the rainforest, the water is enclosed in the rich, deep compost, held in the shade, and available for whatever time is necessary!

What do we learn from this?  In a desert, there are no plants dropping leaves, or falling onto the ground to rot…so there is no compost forming naturally.  In the rainforest, there are trees and plants galore, which shed leaves, break off branches, and support animals that leave their detritus.  All of this falls to the ground, rots and becomes compost.  Now, if we could just get the two together!!!!

THAT is where the gardener begins to display his or her skills, and brains! compost-hand

Essentially, there are three things you need in order to create good soil for your garden. The growing material itself (which we call the soil); water; and air.  We aspire to “perfect” this combination in order to grow our crop, be it vegetables or flowering plants.

BUT, the bottom line is that we need to take the RAIN and hold onto it long enough, and deep enough, for the plants to utilize it.  If a plant is watered and just the top of the soil is dampened, the roots have no way of getting to it.  That is an unhealthy situation.  The roots will aim upward to get to the water, leaving them vulnerable to the next burst of heat, which will dry those roots out, and eventually kill the plant.  Water deeply!  THAT is the weak spot in our rainy climate.  We think because it’s always raining, we shouldn’t need to water, but that is NOT necessarily the case.

We need to figure out how to adjust the soil in order to hold and convey the water down to the roots of the plants.  This is done by combining our soil with compost.  That compost also loosens the soil, allowing space for air to be incorporporated.  A good equation!

In Israel, they have turned the desert into farms.  Go to this site and read how they created this miracle.  But, certainly this is not what we have to do in our PNW gardens, is it?

The Spruce has a wonderful article about building soil to hold water.  It would be worth a visit.

Here’s a link from the University of Maine, Extension Service telling everything you’d possibly need to know about soil,

Here’s to Happy Gardening…and perfect rainfall!

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